OAKLAND — The names of California Highway Patrol officers who shot and killed Erik Salgado in Oakland last summer were revealed in court documents unsealed Wednesday, ending a legal effort by CHP and state Attorney General to keep the names secret.
According to the court documents, the officers are Eric Hulbert, Donald Saputa and Sgt. Richard Henderson. Last August, this news agency reported that Henderson was one of the three officers who fatally shot the 23-year-old and wounded his girlfriend on June 6, 2020.
But the names of the other officers were withheld from the public for more than a year.
After the deadly shooting, CHP officials refused to identify the officers or confirm Henderson’s involvement, and state attorneys took the unusual step of seeking a protective order to keep the names sealed in court filings related to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Salgado family.
The Attorney General’s Office, which represents the CHP, argued the officers’ lives would be endangered if their identities were publicly released. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria temporarily sealed a court filing which named the officers, and gave the AG’s Office another opportunity to convince him that there were credible threats that would justify withholding the identities.
After state attorneys did not renew a motion for the protective order, the judge on Friday ordered the names unsealed. They appeared in a complaint filed Wednesday by attorneys representing the Salgado family, based on records provided to them by Oakland police, which investigated the police killing.
The unsealed filing offers the first details about the officers’ roles in the shooting, which happened amid days of civil unrest over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The CHP officers were part of a specialized undercover unit out in East Oakland when they ran the license plate of a red Dodge Charger driven by Salgado. The plate allegedly came back stolen, and the officers in unmarked trucks attempted to stop Salgado on the 9600 block of Cherry Street.
Boxed in by the police vehicles, Salgado tried to squeeze the Charger between one of the unmarked CHP trucks and a parked car, according to court documents filed by his family’s attorneys. As he attempted to drive away, Henderson, Hulbert and Saputa, who had exited their vehicles and had surrounded the Charger, began firing, the court records show.
Attorneys John Burris, Jim Chanin and Ben Nisenbaum, who represent the Salgado family, said the officers fired without warning. Henderson, who was positioned behind the Charger, emptied his rifle, firing 30 shots from five to 10 feet away from the Dodge, aiming at the driver’s center mass, the attorneys said. Hulbert fired 16 rounds into the driver’s side of the car. Saputa also aimed and fired at the driver’s side, according to court documents.
Salgado, who was not armed, was struck 18 times. His girlfriend, who was in the passenger seat, was wounded but survived.
According to the attorneys’ filing, Henderson and Hulbert claimed they began firing believing a fellow officer, Michael Diehl, had been run over. Diehl at one point was in front of the Dodge, but jumped onto a parked car and got on the sidewalk before Salgado drove forward, the Salgado family attorneys said. Furthermore, Salgado drove in the direction away from where Diehl had been standing, and no officers were in harms way, they said.
“You are not supposed to shoot into a moving car unless your life is in danger,” Burris said in an interview. “The officer was already in a place of safety.”
For Henderson, it was his second fatal shooting as a CHP officer. In 2016, he and his partner, Sgt. John Cleveland, fatally shot Pedro Villanueva in the Orange County city of Fullerton. Similar to the Salgado shooting, Henderson claimed he fired at Villanueva because he thought the 19-year-old was going to run over Cleveland with his truck. The officers were cleared of criminal wrongdoing but are facing a lawsuit from Villanueva’s family.
Attorney Daniel B. Alweiss of the Attorney General’s Office, who represents CHP in the civil suit, referred questions to the CHP’s Office of Community Outreach and Media Relations. Fran Clader, a CHP spokeswoman, confirmed that Henderson, Hulbert and Saputa “are current employees who are on patrol” but declined to comment further, citing the wrongful death lawsuit.
Saputa started his law enforcement career with CHP in 2010, state employment records show. Hulbert has worked as a CHP officer since at least 2014, according to Transparent California. The Alameda District Attorney’s Office has not completed its investigation into whether the officers violated any laws, DA spokeswoman Angela Ruggiero said Thursday. Once completed, the report will be made public.
Keeping the names of public employees, in particular police officers, out of a lawsuit would be unusual. A 2014 state Supreme Court decision requires police officers’ identities to be publicly disclosed, unless the officer or police agency can demonstrate there are credible threats posing a risk to officer safety. Only in rare cases does a police department or sheriff’s office withhold the names of officers involved in deadly shootings, and the information since 2019 is subject to release under a new state law, S.B. 1421.
The AG’s Office in a court filing seeking to keep the officer names confidential said that after Henderson’s name was publicly released, the sergeant “has been the victim of numerous harassers at his personal residence, vandalism and gang threats” and was forced to move as a result. “The safety and security of other CHP Officers involved in this incident is also a reasonable concern based on what has happened to Sgt. Henderson,” the state attorney wrote.
In a sworn declaration, Henderson said his mailbox was vandalized with anti-police graffiti and that an “investigator” came to his home and harassed his gardener. He was likely referring to a Bay Area News Group reporter, who visited his home seeking comment before publishing a story last August identifying him as one of the officers who shot and killed Salgado. The reporter briefly spoke to a man who was mowing Henderson’s lawn.
The AG’s office and Henderson also claimed Salgado is a member of the “Border Brothers” gang and members inside Santa Rita Jail were gathering information on Henderson and seeking retaliation. Henderson, in his statement, said he was told that by Alameda County Sheriff’s Office deputies working at the jail. Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said he was unaware of any threats directed at Henderson from inside the Dublin facility.
Burris said the CHP attorneys “tried to shift the discussion to Salgado and his alleged friends” claiming their lives were endangered “with no proof.”
“From our point of view, it was disinformation, misdirection and disturbing because it prevented us to go forward with the case,” Burris said in a phone interview.
Added Nisenbaum, another attorney for the Salgado family: “There was no real harm that the officers’ faced. Everything they asserted was generic to me. It was really a hail mary.”